The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke over the phone on Saturday to discuss a range of issues, including the fate of nationals being held in prisons of each country.
It said in a statement following the rare phone conversation that “special attention was paid to humanitarian issues including an exchange of people” who are now in prison in the two counties.
Putin raised during the conversation the fate of the Russian journalists arrested in Ukraine, saying they should be released immediately, Presstv reported.
He also discussed the ongoing unrest in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russians are fighting Ukrainian government forces. More than 10,000 people, many of them civilians have been killed in what Kiev blames on Moscow’s support for the pro-Russians. Moscow denies any direct military involvement but insists it will intervene militarily if the rights of majority ethnic Russian population in the region are suppressed.
The office of Poroshenko said the Ukrainian president highlighted in the phone call with Putin the fate of hunger-striking film director Oleg Sentsov and others. expressing hope that they could be released before the World Cup begins next week.
"The head of the Ukrainian state drew attention to Ukrainians' hunger strikes and expressed concern over their deteriorating health,” said Proshenko’s office in a statement, adding that the Ukrainian leader described those like Sentsov held on terrorism charges in Russia as “political prisoners" who should be released "as soon as possible.”
The two sides’ statements elaborated that Putin and Proshenko agreed that a rights ombudsmen should be able to visit the prisoners in the two countries "in the near future”.
Ties between Russia and Ukraine ebbed to their lowest levels in years in 2014 when a pro-Western government took power in Kiev at the expense of a Russia-backed one.
Foreign ministers from the two countries are to meet in Berlin on Monday where they would coordinate their efforts with counterparts from France and Germany to prevent the collapse of a 2015 peace agreement meant to end violence in eastern Ukraine.